Recent Reads: Love at the Haven, The Happiness Project and Starlight and Stone

It’s been a busy few weeks one way or another, and there’s nothing like letting your mind relax with a favourite story. So it’s not surprising that one of this week’s recent reads is a re-read! It was a pleasure to return to Love at the Haven, a contemporary heartwarming 8-part series (so far!) by Stella Shaw (another author name of writer Clare London).

The Haven is a slightly rundown hotel in London’s Earl’s Court, inherited by Rick from his eccentric Auntie Pop, and true to its name, it provides a safe shelter for the male escorts who work from the premises. The ensemble cast is extremely likeable, just a bunch of guys trying to pay their way in the big city, all with their individual hopes, dreams and problems. Each story in the series focuses on one of the group as they find love in turn. All the stories are hot and romantic with beautifully rounded characters and enough realism to make the reader care about each of the Haven crew. Although they are all lovely and it’s not fair to have favourites, I have to admit a sneaking fondness for outrageous, outspoken, interfering and totally loyal Tom with his very individual dress sense.

We’re staying in London for a beautiful new release by Suki Fleet called The Happiness Project. Again, this is initially about two young men struggling to cope and survive in a bleak, seemingly uncaring urban environment. Suki Fleet demonstrates how loneliness and isolation can transform into hope by reaching out with kindness as Bruno and Alexei, next-door neighbours in an inner city estate, start a tentative friendship. I loved how Suki introduced a touch of otherworldly magic as a catalyst in their journey to happiness. The Happiness Project is a deeply moving and heartfelt story with a truly accepting and diverse central romance.

I’m sure poor K.L. Noone is sick of appearing on this blog, but I had to share her short new Medieval fantasy ‘after the epic battle’ release Starlight and Stone.

This eloquent short story revolves around one crucial conversation between newly crowned King Harth and his loyal companion Tris, as during the long fight for Harth’s kingdom, they have never got around to admitting their feelings for each other. Kristin weaves the backstory of their unspoken love affair with exquisite use of language and descriptions that make this short read an emotionally sumptuous treat.

Recent Reads: Eight Acts, Taking Stock, An October Question and UnConVentional Kiss

I’ve had Eight Acts and Taking Stock by A.L. Lester downloaded for a while and I was just waiting for life to calm down so I could take the time to relish both books – and this was the right week!

In Eight Acts, A.L. Lester takes us back to the heady summer of 1967 when in England, the Sexual Offences Act has just decriminalized consensual gay sex in private between two men over twenty-one. As the story opens, there’s a wonderful sense of time and place as Percy and Les, two live-in teachers at an Oxfordshire boarding school spend their long summer holiday break in Swinging London. There are so many adept social and cultural references that place this story perfectly in the era.

 I loved the way that the author captured the tentative sense of freedom, as Percy meets Adrian and they both slowly realise that it’s now legally possible to pursue a tentative relationship. Les, younger and more eager to explore new sexual opportunities comes up against the lack of change in social attitudes with brutal impact. This story is so delicately and beautifully nuanced, recording a generation on the cusp of change embued with so much promise.

Taking Stock features some of the characters in Eight Acts, and is set a few years later in the early 1970s. Although Adrian and Percy appear in passing, this story focuses on Phil, who flees from London to the Somerset countryside at a time of emotional and work crisis. There, he meets Laurie, a local farmer recovering from a stroke, and the scene is set for a gentle, healing romance.

All the characters are so carefully drawn, with a sense of true community and found family which made this a wonderfully engaging read that I didn’t want to end. In these two beautiful stories, A.L. Lester has created a glimpse into a late twentieth-century world slowly relaxing and blossoming into new attitudes and possibilities.

I also thoroughly enjoyed two shorter stories this week. The first was An October Question, the final seasonally themed Wes & Finn story by K.L. Noone, which comes full circle from the first autumn-set story, October by Candlelight. I’ve loved each progression of their romance, and now, with their loving relationship now fully established, medieval history professor Wes has his mind occupied by how to propose to his boyfriend, Finn, a Hollywood actor and former child star. As always with Kristin’s Wes & Finn stories, An October Question is a deliciously atmospheric, romantic and wonderfully escapist read. Although this is the last story charting their love affair, I’m glad to say this loveable couple will be back as secondary characters in other series. Thank you, Kristin!

The second short of the week is a collab freebie from K. C. Carmine and Kat McIntyre, available from Bookfunnel with a sign-up to the authors’ newsletters where you can access more fabulous free shorts! UnConVentional Kiss is gorgeously geeky with two adorable leads. It’s set at a Comic Con Convention where Beckett (dressed as Superman) and Cayden (as Batman, natch) are there on their own, as their friends are not fellow supergeeks and any (former) girlfriends simply don’t get CosPlay.

Cayden befriends Beckett, and since they make a striking pair a bunch of fellow conventioneers persuade them to pose together for photos and even share a kiss… UnConVentional Kiss is a gorgeous start to a new upcoming series from two fab authors that I’ll be sure to snag!

RoMMantic Reads Zine: Meet the Contributor and other stories

Along with a whole bunch of other LGBTQ+ authors, I’m lucky enough to be part of RoMMantic Reads, a new free online zine with weekly articles and wonderful micros, poems and short stories. I really love reading what everyone has come up with and am not a bit intimidated by everyone’s talent. (That’s a lie!)

Last week, it was my turn on Meet The Contributors, where I answered some fun questions (not entirely seriously) about my endless quest for more bookcases and the inspiration for my ongoing Twelve Letters series, an ensemble MM Regency Romp.

Also, this week, we had a wonderful short story from Kristin Noone set in Roman Britain that sent atmospheric shivers down my spine. Do pop over to RoMMantic Reads to check out that reading treat!

Recent Reads: Bisclavret and To Love a Traitor

As I both write and read historical stories, I’m rather self-indulgently reviewing two wonderful historicals this week, although they are a contrasting pair!

The first is Bisclavret by K.L. Noone, an exquisite Medieval fantasy tale set amongst the wild forests of Brittany which has a wonderful Celtic myth atmosphere. Bisclavret is based on the 12th-century story by Marie de France but Kristin puts her own distinctive spin on the tale. I’m sure Kristin is getting sick of being featured on this blog, but it’s entirely her fault for writing such a wide variety of wonderful stories!

This tale is written from the point of view of Lord Bisclavret, who transitions to a werewolf at full moon. He is encouraged by his husband, scholarly, absent-minded King Andreas to write his memoirs regarding his painful betrayal by his former wife Elaine, which trapped him in his wolf state.

Although Lord Bisclavret’s story is a sad one, the contrast between his difficult past memories and the joy of the present with a man who loves him dearly is a delicate counterpoint. I loved this interpretation of a medieval tale and the distinct magical world the author has created. The language and descriptions were exquisite, as always, and the central love story was warmly human and endearing, and beautifully nuanced.

We move across the English Channel and several centuries forward for To Love a Traitor by JL Merrow, who is another writer I read everything by! The main character is George Johnson, a conscientious objector in WW1 and now a lawyer’s clerk. As a cryptographer in the Admiralty in wartime, he is adjusting to post-war life while taking on his own investigation of his brother’s death at Ypres during the war.

Slowly but surely, George starts to fall for the main suspect, Matthew Connaught. This makes the low-key, slow-burn story all the more compelling as the emotional stakes increase. I found myself reading compulsively, hoping beyond hope for a happy ending for George and Matthew. The historical setting of post-WW1 England was beautifully drawn from the language and involved social context to the behaviour of the characters. To Love a Traitor is a note-perfect and utterly absorbing story.

Recent Reads: Under an August Moon and The Twelve Coffins of Doctor Coffin

It’s a pleasure to review a couple of stories by two fellow authors for JMS Books. Firstly, there’s a new story from K.L. Noone, whose stories appear regularly on this blog! Under An August Moon was written for JMS Books’ August Night or Day story submission call.

This time, it’s the turn of one of Kristin’s contemporary couples and a favourite of mine, Wes & Finn. Each story in this series follows the progression of the relationship between a former teen star (gradually getting back to acting after a life-altering accident) and a Medievalist professor, from their first meeting into settled coupledom and even the idea of marriage. The stories are often set at Wes & Finn’s California home, with the odd excursion elsewhere, depending on the demands of both of their jobs. This was another gorgeous tale, with Wes taking some time away from university lecturing to visit Finn in Canada while he’s filming a superhero tv series, being called on set mainly at night.

The author builds such atmosphere as Wes watches Finn in professional mode with admiration, trying not to be overprotective during any stunt or fight scenes. The love and tenderness between these two is palpable, and often scorching hot (tight-fitting leather superhero costumes anyone?) A romantic delight! 

My second choice is a tale based around the number twelve for JMS Books‘ 12th-anniversary celebration in July with a 15k word limit. This submission call was hugely popular and I’m gradually getting through as many of the varied and delightful stories as I can! This story, The Twelve Coffins of Doctor Coffin by Amy Spector was inspired!

As a huge film and Hammer Horror fan, I absolutely adored this slice of Hollywood movie history as talented director Leo Wayland slums it at a cheap horror movie outfit as his opportunity to break away from being an eternal assistant director. There he meets his old crush and current leading man Everett Reid, making a comeback after being mired by scandal, and as the tight filming schedule progresses, there is more than a hint of a second-chance romance.

I’m amazed at how much Amy packed into this short story. There was tons of atmosphere, cinema history and kitsch movie detail and tone perfect for the era with great secondary characters that allowed the tentative central relationship to shine. A real gem of a tale.